Category: words

Confessions of an Old Fool, Part 2

After all the fuss and melodrama of the previous post, here is my shamefaced but somewhat relieved update. As many computer-savvy though not necessarily younger friends have patiently pointed out, deleting your photos just sends them to somewhere called the Recycle Bin where they sit patiently waiting for Restoration – think young Charles the Second (soon to be) in his French exile waiting for the call, perhaps.

Who knew? Er, everybody but me, it seems …

Anyway, panic over … but it has got me thinking. Why, when I thought my photos were gone forever, did I feel such crazy elation? Maybe because it gave me a chance to be funny. Perhaps I welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate my stoical strength in the face of catastrophe. But I suspect the real reason was that, all of a sudden, I felt free.

As my wondrously down-to-earth better-half put it, “You never look at them anyway.” She’s not wrong. I love the idea that they are there, of course, a kind of instant memory bank. One day I may be only too glad for the shortcut they provide to the past but for now it’s always the next thing that matters, not the last. If you’re always moving on, they tell me, you should travel light.

It may help that I grew up in a less visual culture. Radio was always more compelling than our dull 1950s television. Newspapers and magazines carried a small number of line drawings and black & white photographs. Jazz and even Rock’n’Roll worked their magic by inner dynamics where the way things looked was somehow less important. Now, image is everything and images are everywhere.

I’ve always been more comfortable with words. In a previous post, I compared words to a river running through us all. As a fossil record of our common past, words link us together. Could it be that the flow of communication, nowadays, is halted every time we look at a photograph with its hollow and distracting promise of a brand-new way of looking?

Photos always creep me out a bit, those flat and frozen moments in a limbo between life and death. Portraits are frequently too knowing – only models and actors manage to look natural. Candid snapshots are often intrusive. Nature photography can diminish and disappoint. I sometimes wonder if our visually-obsessed culture leaves us all swimming in the shallow end, more and more fearful of venturing into depths of experience which we lack the words to describe.

Like everything, I suppose, it’s a balance. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but only if manages some kind of meaningful communication in its own right. Has the balance swung too far in favour of appearance, I wonder? I read a great post recently about the spread of emoticons online ( follow What is the Big Deal? ) which made me wonder if visual stereotypes were starting to replace the subtle, nuanced use of words to deliver thought and emotion. Labels are the way we commodify the world, at our peril.

Deep waters, indeed, and I am barely afloat myself. You might say that photographs are to art what soundbites are to language. That said, I love trawling the internet for photos to illustrate my posts. I enjoy ironic juxtapostion. Perhaps that’s what I’m flailing towards here. Photos have their place in a context of words. Showing your holiday snaps to your neighbours would be an abuse of human rights without your and possibly their amusing commentary. And publishing a blogpost like this without the light relief of a weird and wacky illustration is the way to online oblivion. To add the context of words and thereby prove my point, I can only say that I find this photograph particularly uplifting …

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Backtracking

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Words are a river flowing through us all. For centuries, the current was a slow trickle from one mouth to another. Writing and then the printing press quickened the stream. Broadcasting and now the internet have accelerated the flow of words to a torrent hurtling through a narrow canyon … a metaphor with thrilling but somewhat discomforting implications. Are too many words rushing by too fast to be read? And has our round-the-clock rolling-news environment made analysis any easier?

Where our ancestors – even more divided by tribal allegiance, mother tongue and sheer geography than we are – might have felt uneasy and perhaps overwhelmed, we 21st century cybernauts have learned to ride the wave and surf our brave new world of instant communication in search of a new community of ideas. What that will be like, of course, we won’t know until we find it. After all, Columbus never set out to discover America … and I wasn’t any clearer about my destination five months ago, when I began posting online with this tentative offering.

Hello World  My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost. No point in going over old ground, after all …

A lofty mission statement, indeed, which I proceeded to trash with nostalgic posts about my mother and my grandfather and my musical memories. It seems that I’ve barely set foot out of the house. Perhaps I’ve become agoraphobic in my old age, in which case who am I to judge today’s housebound youngsters – as I did in this earlier post?

Freedom to Roam I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for children again, providing facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. Who knows, this could be a way to develop better communities in future …

Perhaps the missing adult influence will be found online in future … but to interrupt myself here, not only am I going over old ground but starting to repeat what I’ve already said. It must be my age. Then again, it could be a valiant attempt to clarify what I’m hoping to achieve with Nomad in Cyberspace. There will be more on music, for sure, and maybe more than music. Perhaps all bloggers go through a period of navel-gazing before discovering what it is they’re really trying to say.

Who knows? Not me, yet, but watch this space … and weren’t cybernauts those metal monsters in old Doctor Who episodes?

Postscript

Who needs a memory when we have the internet? The click of a button brings me news that those shiny aliens in Doctor Who were the Cybermen.

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I also learn, with uncanny speed, that the Cybernauts appeared in The Avengers.

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Now that technology has cleared that up, can anyone human suggest another word that could be used to describe online adventurers? Or should we just adopt the word cybernaut, despite its sinister associations?